As ABC news confirmed yesterday, alleged lead 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta attended a Florida mosque run by Gulshair Shukrijumah, a radical Islamist imam. Although ABC revealed key new details, including that an FBI informer had been interested in Atta, but had been pulled away from him by his handlers, public information previously indicated Atta and fellow alleged hijacker pilot Marwan Alshehhi had attended the mosque. Based on this, in early 2007 I wrote an entry in the 9/11 Timeline called “Atta and Alshehhi Attend Florida Mosque,” which put together a comment in the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report and media accounts.
Atta’s connection to Gulshair Skukrijumah and his son Adnan may be important to one of the most interesting 9/11 scandals: Able Danger. After the attacks, members of an army data mining programme came forward and claimed that, as a part of a project aimed against al-Qaeda, they had identified Atta and three other hijackers, Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, as members of an al-Qaeda cell they called “Brooklyn.” The cell got its name because the members all had some connection to the NYC borough, not because they were physically present there. Atta and the others were apparently found to be linked to the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. However, an explanation as to how this might have happened has been lacking until now.
The elder Shuhrijumah was a close associate of the Blind Sheikh, and had been an imam at the Al Farooq mosque in Brooklyn where Abdul-Rahman preached. In addition, he acted as the Blind Sheikh’s translator and testified for the defence at the WTC bombing trial, as a character witness for Clement Hampton-El. Confirmation of Atta’s attendance at the mosque therefore establishes a clear link between him and an associate of Abdul-Rahman. As we know Alshehhi attended a Florida mosque and that he was close to Atta throughout their time in the US, it is likely Alshehhi attended the same mosque.
However, the FBI informant saw Atta at the mosque in early 2001, whereas Able Danger linked him to the Brooklyn cell in January 2000. It is unclear how Able Danger could have made the link before Atta officially entered the US, although Atta used a bewildering array of aliases—the 19 hijackers together racked up a total of 364 aliases and name variants—and it is impossible to rule him entering the US under another name out.
One possibility is that there was a prior link between Atta and the Shukrijumahs—how likely is it that Atta and the other hijackers just happened to move in on the doorstep of a known associate of the Blind Sheikh and his son, one of al-Qaeda’s top US-based operatives? There may well have been prior links between Atta and the Shukrijumahs, which Able Danger learned of. For example, Atta made two Green Card lottery applications in late 1999 and it is possible he gave the Shukrijumahs’ address in this context.
The other two hijackers Able Danger identified as being linked to the Blind Sheikh, Alhazmi and Almihdhar, could be connected to him at this time. After arriving in the US on 15 January 2000, they associated with Osama Basnan, who US intelligence knew had thrown a party attended by the Blind Sheikh in 1992. In addition, an unnamed associate of the Blind Sheikh, apparently under FBI surveillance, met with Anwar Al Aulaqi, an imam linked to Alhazmi and Almihdhar in California and Virginia, in early 2000.
There were additional links between the hijackers and Omar Abdul-Rahman. The Passaic County Sheriff’s department found that some of the hijackers used the same mailing address as the Blind Sheikh in Jersey City, although obviously at a later date, and Mohand Alshehri, thought to have been on the second plane to hit the World Trade Center, was reportedly seen near the prison where Abdul-Rahman was being held in the summer of 2001.
The exact way Able Danger linked Atta to the Blind Sheikh remains obscure, although the quantity of links between the hijackers and Abdul-Rahman’s associates indicates this certainty should have been possible. Perhaps more importantly, it clearly could have been done if the program had not been shut down in early 2001.